Friday, October 8, 2010

The Busiest Week

“You will not see a busier week,” was how Borra Vineyards winemaker, Markus Niggli, described last week’s crush.

Much of the focus was on picking old vine Zinfandel, Barbera and Merlot to be shipped to eager wineries in the Midwest and back East, the same way Borra and other Lodi wineries have done for generations.

On Friday, following four days in a row of early-week temps just over 100˚ F, Borra’s top-notch field crew picked Merlot from the “backyard” Borra Vineyards Home Ranch on the north side of the winery, as well as some Barbera.

Inspection of the Merlot revealed small berries with many already raisined or completely sun-fried in the center of each east-west running row due to bad fruit set. Unfortunately, what should be 40 tons from the field may only pick out to 15 tons.

That meant Borra’s crew, headed by Manuel Maldonado, were instructed to carefully select only the best “muy buena” Merlot grapes.

Borra is very fortunate to have a crew that has been working the same vineyards for years. Many small wineries are at the mercy of the availability of hired picking crews. It’s not uncommon for a winemaker who wants to pick on a Tuesday to be told the pick can’t happen until Friday.

With the Borra family owning both Borra Vineyards and Lodi Irrigation, this year-round crew can alternate between irrigation installation and vineyard work. As Markus says, “It’s a great cross venture with another business. During crush they’re not that busy, so they’re here and they’re fast.”

Each harvest seems to work about the same: as half-ton Macrobins were filled, cellar lead Federico hauled them a couple hundred yards back to the winery.

Meanwhile, Antonino from Lodi Irrigation, and others pitched in to help build sturdy thick cardboard bins to be used to ship grapes back East. Each bin was lined with a tough plastic bag before over a half ton of fresh-picked Merlot was dumped in.

To help insure freshness, a column of dry ice crystals was inserted down the center of each mound of grapes to form a cooling core that would last for the entire long trip ahead.

A tie of the bag, placement of a lid, and a few strap ties were the finishing touches before temporary storage in one of Borra’s refrigerated containers – which quickly filled to capacity awaiting a truck. (Trucking companies seem to be overcommitted this year.)

The next day, Markus and the crew pulled in the remainder of the Home Ranch Barbera, then hitched up the tractors to head down the block to Steve’s daughter’s – Gina Borra Granlee’s – house, a stone’s throw away.

That property is also home to the Borra “Church Block” vineyard: a mish-mash of inter-planted varieties including Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. All these old, gnarly head-trained vines were picked at the same time and mixed together, yielding about 5 to 6 tons that will become Borra’s special Members Reserve Field Blend, made only for the winery’s La Dolce Vita wine club.

Markus will throw in about 3 to 4 tons of the just-harvested Home Ranch Barbera to top up the tank holding the Church Block collection, allowing the entire batch to ferment together.


  1. Thanks Jon, this gives us great insight to the fun times that we all hear about, but never get to experience.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Doug!